The Influence of Professional Ethics Codes

Posted on December 21, 2009 by


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Project Managers, does the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct matter? Individuals who are certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI) have all agreed to abide by this code. What influence does the code actually have?

I have often thought of professional codes as primarily a means for a profession to rid itself of its most unethical, and therefore embarrassing, members. In fact, I have mostly seen ethics codes mentioned in terms of listings of members who have been expelled from their organization. Take for example the recent news of three physicians in Mexico City who were telling mothers that their newborns were dead and then selling the very much alive babies. (More can be read about this at I can imagine other physicians saying “hey, we don’t want people like that called doctors. They give the rest of us a bad name. How are we going to get rid of them? Hmmm… how about finding something in our ethics code that we can use to kick them out?”

Bruce J. Rodrigues’ article “Do Ethics Make a Difference” in the December 2009 issue of PMI Today referred to a PMI survey for which 30% of respondents reported that the ethics code had helped them make decisions in their professional life. I found it impressive that this many people were first of all that familiar with their professional code (or perhaps cared enough to take the time to reference it) and secondly, that they applied it to a decision.

I am curious as to which sections of the ethics code people are finding most helpful in guiding their decisions. When I read sections of the code such as “3.3.3 We do not act in an abusive manner towards others” it is hard for to me imagine that an abusive project manager would instantly cease their bad behavior after earning their PMP® (Project Management Professional certification). In support of this, I received questions from someone taking practice PMP Exam tests who struggled because they could not see anything wrong with the abusive behaviors described in the ethics questions. Try as I might, I could not convince the individual that the described behaviors were in any way abusive or wrong. However, the section of the code stating “2.3.2 We report unethical or illegal conduct to appropriate management and, if necessary, to those affected by the conduct” describes a specific action to perform that people may be able to apply more easily. In any case, it is good news that this ethics code appears to be having a positive influence on practicing project managers and is much more that simply an instrument of discipline. The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct can be found at

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